87 and the Toys’ “The Smile Room” (EP)

Critics can’t seem to stop talking about the experimental sounds of the burgeoning American pop underground lately – and for good reason. Beneath the surface of mainstream commerciality, indie artists like 87 and the Toys are creating a brand new strain of alternative music that is as indebted to the surrealist movements of old as it is to the progressive pop aesthetics of a discriminating millennial generation. 87 and the Toys’ new EP, the strong-voiced The Smile Room, puts a ferocious, post-genre spin on the noisy sound so popular with their peers and submits some of the most emotionally-charged and authentic indie rock n’ rollers of the season thus far. It’s an immensely gripping listen for sure, and a few hiccups aside, a very evenly arranged set of songs.

BANDCAMP: https://87andthetoys.bandcamp.com/album/the-smile-room

In “You” and “Tremont Street,” we’re introduced to some seductive yet fiercely aggressive tones that weren’t present in a lot of recent releases coming out of the Austin underground, and alongside these tracks, we find somewhat punkier material in “All You Can Eat Sushi” and “Flying Saucers,” the latter of which has a particularly retro feel to its smoking riff. It all falls under the umbrella of contemporary pop, but I wouldn’t be quick to categorize it as plain. If we turn up the volume and listen closely, we’re able to enjoy a smorgasbord of subtle details that have been delicately stitched into the rhythm, rhyme, and rock grooves of any given song, and though some bands are more than content to provide us a couple of single-worthy tracks next to three or four filler songs in an EP, 87 and the Toys produce six authentic, full-force compositions worth their weight in gold here.

The Smile Room’s second act doesn’t have the same potent swing that the first does, but I think I can understand why the group decided to organize the record this way. By slowing down the compositional pace in “You,” “Tremont Street” and “Aitai,” 87 and the Toys give listeners some time to process “All You Can Eat Sushi,” “Shopping Mall” and “Flying Saucers” whilst falling deeper and deeper under the spell of the many twists and turns in the harmonies. It’s not as anticlimactic as it would seem on paper, and to be frank, I don’t know why more alternative acts aren’t putting as much energy into the construction of their records as these guys are. It’s something to be praised, and hopefully replicated by those who take influence from 87 and the Toys in the future.

Whether it’s a road trip down the west coast or an afternoon spent watching the rain fall from the sky, The Smile Room has got a song to suit almost any mood or setting this season. 87 and the Toys are pulling out the big guns in the result of their most recent trip to the recording studio, and proving to critics and audiences alike that they’re ready for the limelight and luxuries that come with owning the primetime stage. Theirs is a sound that has tremendous crossover appeal, I’m very confident that The Smile Room is going to be met with a warm reception from most alternative listeners this April.

Mark Druery